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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


The Mongolian Conspiracy

Rafael Bernal

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To purchase The Mongolian Conspiracy

Title: The Mongolian Conspiracy
Author: Rafael Bernal
Genre: Novel
Written: 1969 (Eng. 2013)
Length: 229 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: The Mongolian Conspiracy - US
El complot mongol - US
The Mongolian Conspiracy - UK
The Mongolian Conspiracy - Canada
The Mongolian Conspiracy - India
Le complot mongol - France
Il complotto mongolo - Italia
El complot mongol - España
  • Spanish title: El complot mongol
  • Translated by Katherine Silver
  • With an Introduction by Francisco Goldman
  • With A Note about the Author by Cocol Bernal

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Our Assessment:

B+ : stylish noir

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The LA Times . 2/1/2014 J.C.Gabel
Publishers Weekly . 30/9/2013 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "As the hot bills start turning up, the bodies pile up and a game of who's-plotting-what-against-whom commences. The conclusion will not be apparent until it's right in front of you; even then, you'll be surprised by its cynicism." - J.C.Gabel, The Los Angeles Times

  • "(T)his Mexico City noir is a lot of fun and packs an unexpected wallop, despite its Cold War kitsch. (...) The real magic is in the character of García himself, a walking anachronism in the freewheeling counterculture of the late 1960s." - Publishers Weekly

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       With its constant shifts between first and third person -- omniscient narration and (heated) interior monologue -- author Bernal adroitly pulls readers into his fast-paced (the clock is ticking ...) noir. The Mongolian Conspiracy's central character is Filiberto García, and much of the novel is spent in this hit-man's head. As he explains: "My business is to make stiffs", and he's made a lot of them. His .45 is a part of him -- "as much as his name and past. Fucking past !" He's good at what he does ("a stiff factory -- assembly line") and:

That's exactly why they always call me, because they want people dead and want to keep their own hands clean.
       He's also a holdover from a different generation, and he understands his place:
All you're good for is producing dead bodies, or rather stiffs -- second-rate dead bodies. And in the meantime Mexico keeps making progress. It's moving forward. The battle you fought is over. Bullets don't solve anything.
       But there are still times his particular talents are called for, and when the Russians pass on some intelligence that someone might be looking to take out the American and Mexican presidents at an upcoming state visit the local powers-that-be think García is the man to dig into how much there really is to this. The American and Russian secret services are buzzing over the case, too, and García is teamed up with an FBI-man as well as a Russian agent, the rivalry between the two superpower-agents an entertainingly friendly one here (though, of course, with mutual distrust still a given). [A note from the publisher does mention that this likely wouldn't have been solely an FBI-job, given that it takes place abroad (i.e. there would have been CIA involvement), but: "The editors and translator considered this conflation to be legitimate poetic license and have retained 'FBI' throughout, as was originally written".]
       The rumor was first picked up in Outer Mongolia, and involves a lot of money (yes, García's eyes light up a bit when he thinks of that money somewhere out there ...) and the Chinese, who are apparently behind the plan. But exactly what the plan is, and who is supposed to carry out the assassinations isn't clear. Since he has some Chinese contacts, they hope García can put a few of the pieces of the puzzle together.
       Everybody is tailing everybody here, but some of those on García's trail aren't just keeping an eye out on him. Soon enough, the bodies begin piling up, too -- and, as someone points out: "I notice a certain ... alacrity, shall we say, in the liquidation of possible witnesses".
       There's also a girl. García falls for Marta, hard -- but she was the plaything of one of the powerful Chinese locals. He takes her in, hoping to protect her -- even as he has to keep suspecting that she's just playing him. Among the amusing aspects of being privy to his tortured thoughts is how the reader is able to repeatedly find him cursing himself for acting like a gentleman (well, "faggot", as he puts it), unable to take advantage of the situation that has landed in his lap.
       García worries that he's in over his head here:
The gringo, the Russian ... and Marta ! They're all in a different league -- so professional, so Outer Mongolia, so international intrigue.
       But it's García who figures out what's really going on, the tragic hero saving the day.
       Bernal's plot is a quite clever one, even if there's a lot of carnage along the way. The fast-paced noir also has a lot of good repartee, both among the various characters as well as in García's head. This is a novel filled with cries of ¡Pinche! -- translated, as Francisco Goldman explains in his introduction, as 'fucking', though that apparently doesn't quite capture the term in all its qualities -- and ¡pinche! is, indeed, the over-arching philosophy, as one might call it, in the book, right down to its inevitable conclusion.
       The Mongolian Conspiracy is a solid, stylish noir in every respect: a good basic plot and some nice twists, a lot of duplicity and distrust, a fine tragic hero, a nice little love-affair, a lot of snappy dialogue, and the requisite body count. The international intrigue is a bit over the top -- but maybe man-of-action, and the man in the middle of everything, García is right; after all:
They've got people to investigate everything. I think that's all they do, investigate, and that's why they couldn't prevent what happened in Dallas. They were so busy investigating, they didn't see that guy with his rifle.
       The writing, too, constantly shifting between first and third person, is effective, making for a quick, taut, and pretty exciting read -- just what you want in a thriller.

- M.A.Orthofer, 17 November 2013

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The Mongolian Conspiracy: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Mexican author and diplomat Rafael Bernal lived 1915 to 1972.

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© 2013-2014 the complete review

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